For years professional sports embraced the idea of sponsorships. Globally recognized companies including famous sports-facing apparel brands, luxury watches and car manufacturers have benefitted from expanded viewership exposure via sponsorship deals with professional, as well as amateur sports clubs.
Football is not indifferent when it comes to advertising and many clubs are participating in large-scale multi-year sponsorship agreements. Gambling and betting companies have also seen the potential of advertising through sports clubs and engaged in the unique opportunity to expand the popularity of their products by joining forces with football clubs that participate in local and globally recognized competitions.
In the UK, gambling and betting companies have a long history of sponsorships with famous football clubs. The first such deals date back to the 1990s' and since then, the front of shirt or other forms of sponsorships have expanded to not only English Premier League (EPL) clubs but smaller clubs as well.
Probably the most important trait for football clubs when joining forces with gambling companies for sponsorships is the financial benefit. Although both clubs and gambling operators disclose details about their deals, information about the financial remuneration is never confirmed upfront and remains subject to analysis by experts in the sports betting vertical. The financial benefits of sponsorships not only help strengthen famous football clubs but also serve as a stepping stone for smaller clubs. Gambling sponsorships in the UK help many local clubs by boosting their growth.
On the other hand, sponsorships help by creating unique experiences and engagement opportunities between the football clubs and their fanbases. Thanks to such deals, sports fans can benefit from once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, receive free tickets, meet with their favorite players, gain advantage of different bonuses and promotions and more.
Additionally, through sponsorships, gambling operators help in the establishment of different public areas around stadiums. At the same time, collaborations can bring special sports betting lounges adjacent to football clubs' stadiums, providing sports fans with unique opportunities to engage in live betting while watching games with their favorite teams. Such locations can also include branded memorabilia for sale, further strengthening the bond between football clubs and their fans.
While unquestionably, betting sponsorships bring benefits for football clubs, the activity doesn't come without drawbacks as well. Exposure via t-shirt sponsorships captures the attention of underage sports fans. One way to counter the exposure of minors is the whistle-to-whistle ban, an initiative that helped restrict gambling advertising during TV sports events in the UK.
Implemented a few years ago, the initiative banned gambling advertising five minutes prior to, during and five minutes after TV sporting events. As sole exceptions were taken events such as greyhound and horse racing. Analysis showed that thanks to the whistle-to-whistle ban, which was introduced in the summer of 2019, the exposure of children to gambling ads decreased significantly. The single industry body for UK betting and gaming, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), praised the whistle-to-whistle ban and acknowledged its effectiveness.
Citing research by Endres Analysis, the BGC said that the whistle-to-whistle ban resulted in a 97% decrease in the number of betting ads seen by children for the first 12 months. This effort undoubtedly marked a positive step toward reducing the exposure of children to gambling, yet football clubs considered further changes as well.
One measure considered by football clubs seeks to further limit the exposure of children to gambling advertising. This is the voluntary betting sponsorship ban discussed by many high-profile clubs. Talks about the voluntary ban on shirt sponsorship have been intensive in the last year. The measure comes amid the regulatory overhaul of the Gambling Act 2005, the primary law that regulates gambling activities in the UK.
The review of the regulation started back in December 2020. Since then, there were multiple deadlines set, but the whitepaper following the review is yet to be released. The regulatory overhaul is vital for the whole industry in the country, including sports teams and their betting sponsors.
In light of the overhaul, which is yet to be confirmed if it will include a ban on front shirt sponsorships for football teams, many clubs considered the option to voluntarily implement the change. This process would involve a planned phasing out of shirt sponsorships. Yet, despite intense talks and planning, football clubs are yet to make a unified decision about the voluntary ban.
At the same time, the review of the Gambling Act continues and it remains unclear whether the revamped regulation will enforce front of shirt sponsorship ban or not. In that line of thought, only recently, at the Annual General Meeting of the BGC, Paul Scully, the UK Minister for Gambling, assured that the government continues to work on the whitepaper.
The minister pointed out that the overhaul represents a "real opportunity" for the regulation to find the right balance. Ultimately, the review was launched in order to make the Gambling Act suitable for the digital age and help reduce gambling harm. Scully said that the whitepaper needs to find the right balance and ensure protection for the vulnerable, while at the same time allowing people who enjoy gambling responsibly to continue to do so.
As a part of the latest speech, the Minister acknowledged that the gambling industry brings vital economic stimulus. In addition to taxes that the gambling operators pay, the industry helps boost tourism, he explained. Moreover, Scully pointed out that the gambling sector provides jobs and helps develop new high-skill tech jobs, which are vital for communities around the country.
An important point about the ongoing review of the Gambling Act, according to Scully, was that the review "is not the final word on gambling reform." He said that besides the whitepaper, there will be consultations with the Gambling Commission and the DCMS, to further refine the rules and ensure their effectiveness. Finally, Scully said that the whitepaper is "weeks away," considering that the government is "making the final decisions and preparing for publication."
Different types of sports activities benefit from gambling sponsorships in the UK. Undoubtedly, the collaborations bring benefits for those clubs and the bettors. Yet, whether or not the gambling reform will affect football sponsorships it remains to be confirmed with the outcome of the review of the Gambling Act, which, according to the Minister for Gambling is due to be released soon.
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